Cockayne: Doctoral Dissertation Research: The Working Lives and Spatial Practices of Digital Media Developers

Grants and Contracts Details


Digital media, such as web 2.0 content and mobile software applications for smart phones and tablets are now fundamental tools of social and professional life in post-industrial capitalist societies. Yet as Kitchin (2011:946) notes "we know very little about the ways in which software is socially created; the nature of software itself; [and how] practices and knowledge get translated into algorithms and code." With San Francisco as a site of empirical inquiry, the central goal of this research is therefore to analyze the production of digital media in contemporary society and the spatial transformations to which they contribute. The production of this content and software are dictated by a small group of privileged developers, and the inequalities that perpetuate and reproduce these systems remain problematically unchallenged and understudied. We interrogate the systems of privilege, particularly gendered privilege, which may be concretized, normalized and reproduced by and through the lived and discursive spatial practices of digital media workers. This research investigates the implications of the central role of developers in terms of (1) the working practices of developers; (2) their spaces of work; and (3) the gendered character of these working practices and spaces. This research employs an approach combining semi-structured interviews, participant observation and qualitative content analysis. The intellectual merit of this research lies in its broad appeal and relevance to a range of scholarly disciplines including the sociology of work, feminist theory, new media, and STS. This study is of considerable relevance to new and emerging disciplines such as social media, code, and software studies. It considers topics of broad appeal including precarious labor in cultural industries; culture, emotions and embodiment in the workplace; gender performativity; and gender inequality in technology sectors. Within geography this study has intellectual merit, engaging in new theoretical insights through combining cultural and feminist economic approaches to question a sector currently largely ignored and often deemed 'immaterial' despite its key role in the production of everyday methods of communication and interaction (Kinsley 2014). Only by combining cultural and economic approaches can we grapple with emerging phenomena such as the 'cognitive-cultural economy,' (defining production dependent upon technologies, new divisions of labor and the enrolment of affect and human cognition in processes of production) with a thorough focus on spatiality (Scott 2011a). Methodologically, combining approaches in sociology will allow us to develop a fine-grained and richly detailed study of the dynamics of power at play in the workplace. This project will ensure that geographers have a key part to play in the emerging scholarship on social and digital media, code, software, and critical technology studies by emphasizing the spatial implications of the current inculcation of society in software-organized spatiality.
Effective start/end date8/1/151/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $15,783.00


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